MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Ryan Newman ended a 22-race winless streak by holding on for the victory at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, grabbing the lead when a three-wide accident took out leading teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson with two laps to go.
Gordon, who dominated all day, and Johnson seemed poised for a showdown in a green-white-checker finish, each eager to give Hendrick Motorsports its 200th victory.
But as the green flag flew on lap 503, Clint Bowyer sneaked inside Gordon’s car heading into the first turn, and the three cars slid up the track as Newman zipped past.
A.J. Allmendinger finished second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. Johnson wound up 12th and Gordon, who led for 328 laps, finished 14th.
The finish overshadowed what had been a stirring duel between Gordon, a seven-time winner on the 0.526-mile oval, and Johnson, a six-time winner. It seemed certain to end with one of them giving owner Rick Hendrick a landmark Sprint Cup victory.
Johnson first took the lead when he passed Gordon on the 356th lap. He lost it on pit road, then passed Denny Hamlin on lap 393. He held off a modest challenge by Gordon with about 30 laps to go and then dueled side-by-side with Gordon until the caution, which came when David Reutimann ran out of gas near the entrance to turn one.
Gordon, who had just nudged in front of Johnson before the yellow flew, was the leader, with Johnson second and everyone behind them heading to pit road for tires.
What had been an atypically clean raced turned into mayhem on the restart.
“We were not a dominate race car,” Newman said. “Clint kind of cleared out Turn One for us and we were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time.”
Earnhardt, who was in position to give Hendrick a sweep of the top three spots before the caution, said everyone being on fresh tires played a factor in the crash.
“We all took off and ran into the back of the leaders, all of us,” he said.
Earnhardt didn’t blame Bowyer for trying to take the inside line, but was at a loss to explain what Reutimann was thinking.
“I would like an explanation on why that happened,” he said of Reutimann stopping where he did after having made several laps with trouble without going to the pits. “There doesn’t seem like there could be a logical reason for him to have to stop on the track.”
Reutimann said his motor just died.
”I would not have stopped on the freaking racetrack. I would have limped it around there and come to pit road, which is what I was trying to do,” he said. “The thing quit going down the back straightaway, and it shut off. I just didn’t stop there intentionally.”